When you think of rural churches, they are not often what you think of as the most welcoming churches. Our thoughts typically run to the “multi-mega-super-duper-humongo” city/suburb churches that have whole brigades of people ready to make your worship experience truly life-changing. That takes budgets, facilities, and people that rural churches lack. So here are 10 ways you can do much with the little you have…
10. Make the first 10 minutes count. – Many church-growth people cite the first 10 minutes that a person is on your property as the deciding factor as to whether a visitor will come back. This includes finding parking, looking at that nasty shrub you planted 20 years ago that desperately needs a trimming, and trying to figure out where the main entrance is located. Notice this does not include the music or the pastor (don’t worry we’ll get there…)
9. Have people ready to take them to where they need to go. Rural churches are notorious for being built in floorplans that would make Picasso and Dali dizzy. Simply because they were built as resources were available. I get that. Having people ready to show visitors where will help more than you could know (provided its not that one crabby lady that wears way too much perfume…)
8. Don’t speak in code – Every church has its own “inside jokes” and that is ok. Just don’t use them during the announcements, because not everyone in the room gets the joke and that will make people feel excluded.
7. Locations, Please – If you are having activities or small groups offsite, please include an address for those who may be new. “Mr. Jones’s house” is not sufficient information.
6. Descriptive names are often best – You may have the most creative name or acronym ever for your Sunday School class, but if there is no description as to what age group it is for, you missed the mark.
5. Signage is not as expensive as you think – Having rooms clearly marked is only to your benefit. It tells guests where to go, and you can have the added benefit of giving people an idea of what else goes on in the church. In our youth Department, we use clear acrylic page holders, so that room schedules can be part of the information at each door.
4. Remove the gauntlet – This is a subpoint of #10. If you are trying to get visitors in the door and where they need to go, remove the mass of people just inside the front door, “catching up on all the latest”. If you have to make a welcome center where people can sit and drink a cup of coffee before or between services, do so.
3.Information is key – Have information ready and available on specific ministries in the church so that visitors can be informed about what is going on.
2. Make a path – This one rises and falls on the leadership. Develop this point, tweak it, evaluate it and be familiar with it. Be able to quickly explain how a person in your church goes from unchurched/unsaved person on the street to a Christ follower, and then discipled to a leadership position such as deacon, children’s or youth worker. etc.
1.Make things safe – Note that I did not say comfortable; that is a different discussion altogether. Think like a visiting parent bringing their children into someplace entirely new. They are entrusting their children to people they have never met. You had better make sure that you have taken steps to earn their trust. I am talking things like signing children in, ways to communicate needs the little ones have to parents (especially important those first few Sundays). You need to show parents there are procedures in place where only the parents may pick up their children from Sunday School or Children’s Ministry. There are many things that can be done to address this that are either free or cheap, such as extra volunteers to watch over the coming and goings of children and parents, or printed labels affixed to toddlers backs with name, approved pickups, and allergies.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to add your feedback and ideas in the comments section below!